Marriage of east and west religious traditions


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Marriage of east and west religious traditions

  1. 1. In the West, theologically, we mostly engage a unitive interpretation of an intersubjective reality (a reference to our interrelating to others and God as personal subjects), while, in the East, a unitary interpretation of an intraobjective reality (as the Absolute Oneness) predominates. Perhaps the former best refers to the essential nature or HOW (intimacy) of our relationships, while the latter best refers to the degree or HOW MUCH (infinite)? While the Gospel message clearly conveyed the degree of intimacy with God to which we might all aspire via Jesus' reference to God as Daddy (Abba) and our tradition offers no too few examples of even a spousal brand of mysticism, a great deal of onto-theological over-thinking and rationalism has degenerated into various dispensationalisms and deisms (back then but not now) or eschatologicalisms (in the future but not now). So, perhaps there is something we can harvest from an inter-faith exploration? Now, at every mention of inter-faith or inter-religious initiatives, someone will quickly offer admonishments to avoid any facile syncretism (easy blending of religions), false irenicism (easy peace between religions) or insidious indifferentism (pick any religion, it doesn't matter). Sometimes, though, I have found such admonishments, themselves, to be facile, false and insidious. Often, this is because the admonishers engage caricatures of faith, itself, either because they do not fully understand its essential nature or because they variously over- and under-emphasize its speculative vs affective or kataphatic vs apophatic approaches. (see note below) Truly, only an insidious indifferentism would suggest that ad majorem Dei gloriam (the greater glory of God) would not be at stake in getting our approaches as true, as good and as beautiful as practicable! However, I don't think we risk that vice even as we offer the observation that that the practical consequences of choosing between some paths are often way overstated. Take, for example, the unitary vs unitive conceptions of the journey of the East and West; is it not notable that, among billions of practitioners of each approach over thousands of years, so many from both paths, especially those who travel far or go deeply, will inevitably share both a profound sense of solidarity and a compelling response of compassion? Shouldn't the clear conceptual implications of our different approaches also translate into obvious practical implications for our relationships to self, others, the world and God? Of course they will but those implications will present in varying degrees, more versus less consequential. We do, after all, have metrics to guage intellectual, emotional, moral, social and faith developments (thanks to Piaget, Maslow, Kohlberg, Fowler and others) and to guide our conversions (also intellectual, affective, moral, 1
  2. 2. sociopolitical and religious, thanks to Lonergan and Gelpi)? It is one thing, however, to have our Lonerganian metrics but quite another to imagine that we also have the sociologic methods to adequately guage their realization among and across populations and religious cohorts (not ignoring that Stanley Jaki and others haven't made reasonable but still controversial general cases for one hermeneutic versus another). Let's return to the essential nature of faith, itself, for more insights into these questions. Here we might better clarify why it seems to be that conceptual implications don't always translate into practical consequences. The primary reason, in my view, is right here before our eyes in the distinction between the conceptual and practical! Different faiths will far more engage what we might call practical existential hermeneutics and far less have anything at all to do with speculative evidential metaphysics, which involve, instead, what are essentially philosophical preambles. In the practice of faith, as a live (not unreasonable), vital (existentially significant) and forced (not to choose is to choose) option, one will far more engage the participatory, imaginal and existential and far less rely on the conceptual, propositional and evidential, which is to recognize that theology is much more so a practical, much less so a theoretical, science. The efficacies of faith present in terms of right relationship to self, other, world and God; these efficacies are not primarily measured narrowly in terms of conceptual coherence but more broadly in those of valuerealization, with an emphasis on those related to love. Developmentally, more often orthocommunio (right relationship in community) will result moreso from orthopathy (right desires) and orthopraxy (right behavior) and less so from orthodoxy (right beliefs). Put another way, most often, community, cult and code will be robustly practiced even as creed typically will be only vaguely sketched and poorly understood. In our reality, which is radically incarnational and profusely pneumatological, quite often such value-realizations will be much more implicit than explicit, reflecting, then, a degree of unconscious competence. Even when explicit, quite often those conceptualizations will represent caricatures and misconstructions, a degree of conscious incompetence, but with little practical consequence due to the otherwise proper forming of desires and of behaving in community via practices, liturgy, ritual and spiritual formation. This is all to suggest, perhaps, that, all gnosticism and agnosticism aside, a great deal of practical ignosticism nevertheless prevails even among believers. (Ignosticism suggests that, when it comes to God-concepts, people aren't even employing coherent definitions or that they are too often assuming too much or employing different definitions even when otherwise coherent). Also, while much has been made of radical apophaticism in recent years, few have seriously critiqued what has become a predominant radical kataphaticism, which presents both as pietism (an over-emphasis on the affective and kataphatic) and rationalism 2
  3. 3. (an over-emphasis on the speculative and kataphatic); where faith elements that are primarily interpretive, metaphorical and mythical are misconstrued as being mostly descriptive, metaphysical and literal; where the participatory imagination fancies itself as doing conceptual map-making; where what is essentially a theology of nature (or theo-ontology), a poetic venture, is received as a natural theology (or onto-theology), a philosophic venture; where the exoteric and mythical crowds out the esoteric and mystical; where believing and behaving take formative precedence over belonging and desiring; where implicit and existential approaches are denigrated and explicit approaches are fundamentalistic; where the unconsciously competent is not appreciated and the conscious is manifestly incompetent. Such rationalists might acknowledge that one needn't understand the metaphysics and theology of the Eucharist or other sacraments in order for their celebration to be efficacious but not as quick to agree that the same could be true for energy healing or with the manifold and multiform goings on during one's 20 minute sitting (those psychological imbalances, which have often associated with spiritual mispractice, generally require the therapy of prudential norms - e.g. moderation, not the ministration of theological gnosis - e.g. proselytization). Of course, not all therapies for practice will involve normative and prudential remedies; some may well involve interpretive corrections. Still, when interpretive, those remedies will require metaphorical, imaginal and mythical reformulations and not metaphysical, conceptual and literal corrections. In this vein, Westerners can acknowledge that reality IS like the unitary interpretation but that, as with the unitive interpretation, what we have, perhaps and at most, is a successful reference, not a successful description. Furthermore, we can acknowledge that there IS more to be said literally through apophatic predication and negation even while there is no limit on what can be metaphorically affirmed through kataphatic affirmation. The western dualistic mindset often gets caught up in a zen conundrum regarding then there is no mountain because it doesn't finish the trialectic with then there is, which returns one to the practical plane where we live and move and have our being, hopefully, in solidarity and compassion. The unitary interpretation, as with the unitive interpretation, is but part of the truth; both interpretations refer to a LARGE reality and thus convey enormous existential impetus. As mentioned earlier, the unitive without the unitary has often led to deism, while the unitary without the unitive has often tended toward quietism; held in creative tension, though, they affirm us as created co-creators. While it is neither ideal nor optimal when folks enjoy poor catechesis ad employ impoverished theological conceptions, to the extent they have otherwise been suitably evangelized and have enjoyed a loving community that has formed their desires and shaped their behaviors through liturgy, sacrament and practice (even if implicitly, whether via unitary or unitive pathways), for all practical purposes, their formation will have been more than adequate. 3
  4. 4. None of this is to suggest that we should not otherwise all aspire to the most nearly perfect 1) articulation of truth 2) celebration of beauty 3) preservation of good and 4) enjoyment of community in order to give God the greatest possible glory (AMDG: ad majorem Dei gloriam). It is to say, however, that we should acknowledge that there is no a priori theoretical argument that can demonstrate which path would take us to AMDG and that, furthermore, beyond a certain measure of epistemic virtue, any a posteriori demonstration of the practical superiority of one religious stance versus another remains too highly problematical for all sorts of reasons. That's why both proselytizing and heresy-hunting so quickly reach a point of diminishing returns and become counterproductive, even to the point of offending charity. As it is, heresyhunting does not engage theological method per se; rather, it's essentially a simple exercise in semantics (more akin, really, to mathematical set theory) and only reveals which stance corresponds to which other stance (s); it cannot reveal which stance corresponds to reality. At the same time,via philosophical method, we can measure the epistemic virtue of competing faith stances (but we still can't prove which stance is true). So, in the same way that we affirm a government's role to maintain the public order but not to enforce all moral virtue (because diminishing returns quickly ensue), perhaps we should thus temper our coercive attempts to convert others to our stance, instead evangelizing them by modeling the belonging, desiring, behaving and believing that we would to share with all. Thus we distinguish between what would be an insidious religious indifferentism (imagining that one's choice of stance makes no difference or that there are no criteria for choosing) and a humble and contrite religious tolerance (warranted by our human fallibility). Let us thus pray with Thomas Merton: O Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire to please You. And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me and You will never leave me to make my journey alone. Note regarding the various -ISMs: 4
  5. 5. An overemphasis of the kataphatic and cognitive = rationalism. An overemphasis of the kataphatic and the affective = pietism. An overemphasis of the apophatic and the cognitive = encratism. An overemphasis of the apophatic and affective = quietism. Various overemphases of the positivistic, descriptive and/or of science = positivism, empiricism and scientism. Various overemphases of the paradigmatic, interpretive and/or of theology (or even atheology) = fideism, on one hand, Enlightenment fundamentalism, on the other, or dogmatism. An overemphasis of the prescriptive and normative, or on the law and code = legalism. An overemphasis on the evaluative = moral relativism and an embrace of the so-called fact-value dichotomy. And when combined with the rubrics of religion = ritualism. 5